Published January 13, 2015
Brett Comer scored 21 points and Florida Gulf Coast claimed the first NCAA tournament berth in school history, knocking off top-seeded Mercer 88-75 in the Atlantic Sun championship game Saturday.
The second-seeded Eagles (24-10) became the first team in the 68-team field by snapping Mercer's 17-game home winning streak, tied for the sixth-longest in the nation. Sherwood Brown added 16 points and 11 rebounds as Florida Gulf Coast pulled away after a back-and-forth first half.
Brown sparked a 14-3 spurt that broke open the tight game, sending Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAAs in just their sixth season as a Division I program. The Eagles celebrated at midcourt, hugging and jumping around after getting their championship gear.
Travis Smith led Mercer with 16 points, but the Bears (23-11) couldn't overcome 39 percent (26 of 67) shooting from the field. They were denied their first NCAA bid since 1985.
Cheered on by a hometown crowd, Mercer raced out to an 11-3 lead and forced Florida Gulf Coast to call a quick timeout. After that, it was tight the rest of the opening half.
Led by Comer, the Eagles ripped off a 15-6 spurt to grab their first lead since the opening minutes, 18-17. The teams went back-and-forth, the lead changing hands 11 times before halftime. Florida Gulf Coast went to the locker room clinging to a 38-36 edge.
But the Eagles came out firing in the second half. Brown swished a 3-pointer and taunted the crowd, Comer knocked down another trey, and Bernard Thompson hit yet another 3. Just like that, Florida Gulf Coast had pushed out to a double-digit lead for the first time, 49-38.
Jakob's Gollon's basket capped a 10-4 spurt that was essentially Mercer's last gasp.
The Eagles followed a TV timeout with a miss, only to steal the ball back, setting up Brown for a layup. Brown scored two more baskets, including a 3, then Chase Fieler came up with another steal and went in for a jam, pushing Florida Gulf Coast to a 67-54 lead. The Eagles led by as many as 17 down the stretch and were never seriously challenged.
Brown made 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Fieler chipped in with 15 points for the Eagles, who shot 51 percent (30 of 59).
Gollon and teammate Bud Thomas scored 14 points.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963